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I Tend to Wander

This blog chronicles oddly-themed travel and food adventure in the Americas and Europe

Monday, December 18, 2006

Alexandria, Virginia: Nautical and Natural

It's 66 degrees on December 18th! Let's Bike!

Well-groomed parks, art studios, historic houses, and a pretty impressive swamp line the Mt. Vernon Trail along Old Town Alexandria’s Potomac River waterfront.

Fifteen-minutes from downtown Washington, D.C. a languid stroll or bike from Old Town north to the Washington Sailing Marina and back is a fine way to unwind for the day or just the afternoon.

If you stroll, start from The Torpedo Factory in the heart of Old Town at the bottom of King Street. This cavernous World War II weapons factory now houses the studios and shops of painters, weavers, sculptors, potters, and photographers. Set off north from the wharf behind the studios.

If you’d rather, you can rent bikes just one block south of The Torpedo Factory at Big Wheel Bikes at (2 Prince Street). While they’re not giving them away ($5.00/hour with 3-hour minimum or $25.00 for the whole day for a basic adult or kid’s bikes), they do have a large stock and wide variety including tandems, bikes with baby seats, and Trailalongs. The comfort and agility of an aluminum hybrid with a front shock, at $7.00/hour or $35.00 for all day, might be worth the price, but the gently rolling, paved trail and mellow street riding don’t call for the expensive top-end, full suspension mountain bikes or aero-shifter road bikes.

Inexplicably, the official Mt. Vernon Bike Trail map insists that riders maneuver down car-clogged Union Street, across a working railroad track, before allowing them to escape to the river. Our advice: ignore the official decree and hug the river from the very beginning by carrying your bike up the stairs of the Torpedo Factory and out the back to the wharf, and set off past the Chart House restaurant (famous for crab cakes) and onto the gently winding riverside path.

Whether you walk or bike, the path winds through Alexandria’s history as an early American canal and river port (Orinoco Bay Park), past the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, and over recently unearthed chunks of 19th century canal (Tide Lock Park). In only a few miles, the length of this ride bristles with historical markers at each of the parks and vistas.

Remember that this is a city trail, and, like a highway, becomes crammed after work and on the weekends with other bikers, walkers, joggers, roller-bladers, kids, and dogs. Wear a helmet.

The kudzu-covered bridge beneath the wheezing and rusted hulk of the Alexandria Power Plant is narrow and full of blind curves, but carries the path right out over the mud flats for broad Potomac views of egrets and sailboats.
The path rises up out of the mudflats to a boardwalk snaking through the marshy edge of Daingerfield Island, not an island at all, really, only a soggy curve in the river forming uncommon tidal marsh and swamp forest habitat full of cattails, frogs, and blue herons, round the bend to the Washington Sailing Marina and its Potomack Landing restaurant whose umbrella’d deck offers post card views of sailboats in the offing and the Washington skyline beyond. Tool back to Old Town to lunch or dine at the casually sophisticated Chadwick’s between Big Bikes and The Torpedo Factory on Prince or merely reward your efforts at Ben and Jerry’s on Union Street.

The entire Mount Vernon Trail runs 18 miles from Roosevelt Island at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial to George Washington’s Mount Vernon home. Easy biking south of Old Town is barely impeded  by the bikeable windy Woodrow Wilson Bridge and its handsome, canted Art Deco tower.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Southwestern Missouri: An Eden in So Many Ways

It could very well be that you are all well aware of snake migration and are, even as you read this, watching your step. Reaffirming in a quivery, slithery way, the weirdness of Nature, here is an explanation of Snake Migration, which as if once weren't enough, is a biennial event and has been for a long time. The description is from a Missouri herpetologist named Wayne, who, under his GardenWeb "Bio" does not flog the same old "School, Family, Secret Abiding Love for Decoupage" screed that we all spout when "Bio" is required, but instead he lists his 2006 "Snake Total to Date" Look at this: "579 snakes, 70 venomous, among them 68 Eastern Yellowbelly Racers and an Osage Copperhead" that he describes as a 'lifer'. This of course, tells us all a lot more about Wayne than anything anybody could say about secret trysts with varnish in the basement, and we say, "Now, that's an interesting guy."

This is what he writes about autumn migration:

"The fall is when the snakes begin traveling back to their winter dens from parts far away (and in the spring, of course, it is when the snakes leave their dens and begin traveling to parts far away).
He continues, "Snakes overwinter in the same den year after year and some of them will travel several miles in the fall to return to their dens. Migrations mostly happen in central states like Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, and Kentucky and places farther north where snakes spend their winters in large communal dens in bluffs.
Farther south snakes can den almost anywhere (a stump, a rodent hole, etc.) and thus they don't den in large concentrations.
In some places if you are between a denning bluff on one side and good habitat on the other you can walk along and actually see the snakes migrating. The snakes will all be coming from the flats and heading to the bluffs and all will be on the move in the same direction.
On a good day during peak migration you might see as many as 50 to 60 different snakes in a three hour walk. On a more typical day during the peak migration you might see from 12 to 25 snakes in three hours. At the early and late ends of the migration (which lasts for about 2 months) you might see just 4 or 5 snakes. It's really a neat thing to observe!"

And who can deny it?! Certainly, there are Worlds within Worlds. Here is a person striding along between our world and the one that evidently exists between flatland and bluff. What luck it is that he reports back to us as he scuffs through Yellowbelly Racers and Osage Copperheads in their single-mindedly commute as the nights turn chilly, anxious to return home to writhe down and knot up with the gang -some won't have made it, though, and there will be new, uh, faces, too - in the craggy pits and cave shelves, where they'll all hunker down, to snooze until snow-melt.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Maybe I'll Just Order The Chicken

Things to do Today:
Go to Post Office
Buy new mascara
Be more civicly vocal
Go to dinner

"Exactly how shrill was I?"

"Pretty shrill. I think he didn't know whether to laugh or get mad. Then when you picked up the fork, he looked kind of scared. Here, run cold water on your wrists and fix your face. We have to get back out there."

"And then! Good ol' Lindsey didn't exactly diffuse the situation: "No No, Liz. It's good for you. Full of omega-3s. It lubes your brain." Good God, I could have sunk those tines right into her white, flaky belly. Am I the only goddam one paying attention? They're gone. We've eaten them all. They were good, delicious even, but now they're dead. That's it. We ate them all. Lindsey's brain, soon to be parched and lubeless, will begin to fray like the husk of an old coconut."

"Ha. Good ol' coconut-noggin Lindsay. Here is lipstick, it's Coral Bisque. Put it on.....I'm sure you're not the only one paying attention."

"Who else?! You? You're like an otter for God's sake. You'd lie on your back wrapped in sea weed, and whack oysters on your belly all day."

"Who wouldn't honey? People pay attention, you're just the one getting her knickers in a twist."

"Oh yes, you'd lie on your back and gobble grouper gobbets in your gnashing little cat teeth and slurp up little baby sea turtles, their little flippers flapping between your smiling lips. May I use your blush? Sorry. Ooo Lancome. Thanks."

"Here. Yes, Lancome. It's called Mundo Perdido. That sounds rather lovely actually: bobbing about wrapped in seaweed smashing oysters on my belly and slurping up baby turtles. Gnash, gnash, gnash. But grouper gobbets, really, I draw the line. Honestly, Liz, knicker-wise, you still sound a little het up. You had better take one enormous breath and remember who you are. Now, swab your mascara off, you look like the Green Hornet. And put on this lipgloss."

"OK Jeez. You're right. Sorry. Oh wait. I can't. It's bronze. It'll make my teeth look, you know, all camelly carmelly...No, you're like not an otter, you're all like a pod of those whales spewing out nets of bubbles to round up thousands of little silver smelty fishlets and then shoot up through them with your cavernous maws agape. And you'll gobble them all and look around for more..but, oh that's right! Ha! We ate them all! They're gone. All gone. Doesn't that bother you?"

"Now I'm a pod? Jeez! Be nice to me. That's my Shiseido, you know. More gobbling. Yum. Little smelty fish. Put on that lip gloss. You won't be carmelly. You will seem festive. No one will be looking at your camel teeth anyway. They probably won't look at you at all, unless, of course, they all stand up and cheer. Let me see you. OK. You're ready. And, actually, you know, I think it will be OK. While you were waving the fork and screaming about responsibility for the planet, and voting with your wallet, your hair looked really good."